Our first boat day was today! We measured live coral cover compared to macro algae and recently dead coral. We also collected sea urchins for 25 minutes and then measured them.
We actually did two boat trips today. One was to the south of the island in the marine protected area and the other was slightly further away in the same direction outside of the protected zone. We collected the same data at each site and we will compare it later when we analyze.
I saw a huge wall of queen conch at our second site, but all of them were dead. Apparently the huge eagle rays eat them. I also saw flamingo tongues on gorgonians. It’s satisfying when things behave like they’re supposed to.
After we got back from the boat trip I became the first 319 student to actually take a kayak out. I went down into the mangroves and explored a little with Ella and Stephanie. We saw the skeleton of a pelican hanging in a tree, an osprey, some crabs on logs, and a beautiful sunset.
After dinner we had free time, and we hung a light off the dock to see if we could attract anything to it. Mostly we got a bunch of tiny fish and some crustaceans (maybe shrimp?). People switched from looking at the light underwater to looking at the stars and some point. They were beautiful.
I almost started writing this blog earlier this evening, but instead decided to go out on the dock and look at the stars. Thank God I did, because gazing at the stars was the best part of a fantastic day. Not only is the shear number of stars mind boggling, but the juxtaposition of the vast ocean with the greater enormity of space is quite thought-provoking. I wish we could be surrounded by this much wonder all the time.
As for the rest of the fantastic day, we spent a ton of time in the water, which was so fun. We took our transects and quadrats to the ocean, using them to measure stony coral cover on various patch reefs, which is an indicator of reef health. By doing this analysis both within and outside of the Marine Protected Area, we can look at how protection affects reef health. We also collected sea urchins in both localities, as these species are especially influential on reefs.
I saw some really cool animals today on the reefs! Right after jumping off the boat, a great barracuda swam by, but it was still very small in comparison to its maximum size of two meters. One of the coolest sightings today was a sharptail eel (Myrichthys breviceps) snaking through the coral crevasses. Anna and I also saw a giant, very colorful lobster. Some other piscivorous fish sightings included French grunts and an unidentified species of snapper with huge red irises.
Overall, a day that really made me appreciate coral reefs in a new way.